Category: film and animation

Oh, the Things I Watch

So, armed with my new subscription to Crunchyroll, because like the rest of my generation I’m impatient and can’t wait a week for new anime episodes, I’ve set to watching this season’s new shows as they come out. What do I settle on first?

Yeah, Cat God. I know it wasn’t that long ago I declared moe dead to me, but this show pushes too many of my buttons. I can’t resist catgirls. I love shows like Oh, My Goddess! and Spice and Wolf with goddess girlfriends/roommates/traveling partners/whatever. I love shows dealing with the supernatural in general, really.

The show’s pretty average, actually. Episode 1 was too chaotic, but episode 2 fixed that. The jokes aren’t too bad. The animation meets par, but won’t blow anyone away. Call it ‘Mostly harmless’, I guess.

I think I can redeem myself by also watching Gainax’s new show, The Mystic Archives of Dantalian, this time via Nico Nico’s streaming. All I really want from the show is Gosick but with better writing. Two episodes in, I have high hopes. I can tell I’m not the only one, since most of the discussion I’ve seen of it so far has been praise for not having the annoying habits of other shows, and Gosick in particular. Dantalian has, of all things, a competent protagonist, a girl with a sharp tongue but not unnecessarily bitchy, and mysteries that don’t require not just a suspension but outright termination of disbelief.

I especially love the show’s artwork and atmosphere.

I’m also using Crunchyroll to continue Hanasaku Iroha from last season, and for Fist of the North Star for some old-school action.…

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A-Kon 2011

I spent this past weekend at A-Kon, one of two anime conventions held in the Dallas area and the longest-running convention in the US (AFAIK). I had fun spending time with my sister and meeting with a couple friends, which is typically the highlight of any convention anyway, and also went to a pretty good panel on Kon Satoshi given by Helen McCarthy and Daniel Briscoe, but honestly I probably won’t go next year.

Though A-Kon isn’t too bad, I just don’t enjoy it as much as I used to. For one thing, the novelty has simply worn off, I can get much of the stuff in the Dealer’s Room online, and most of the art in the Artists’ Alley isn’t worth buying. Most importantly for me, though, A-Kon just doesn’t bring in guests that I care about.

Here, I prefer the other Dallas convention, AnimeFest, which despite being smaller does a better job coming up with interesting panels. Mainly, I’m interested in hearing from Japanese people – that is, the ones who make these comics and cartoons. I couldn’t care less about American voice actors, webcomic artists, and so on. No doubt there are a lot of logistical difficulties in bringing someone halfway across the world just to give a few panels over a weekend, but AnimeFest has done just that for several years now. Katayama Kazuyoshi came last year, and Sato Dai has come a few years in a row (and has always been very entertaining and informative). I may still end up going to A-Kon next year, if I have some friends to go with or if they do come up with a decent guest, but otherwise I’ll just stick with the smaller convention.…

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The Sudden Death of Moe

Well, for me, anyway. Moe has been around for several years and far be it from me to predict when it’ll end, but for me it died while reading vol. two of Kakifly’s K-On!

I don’t think K-On! itself caused it; I did like the first season of the anime adaptation, though I never watched season two. Rather, while about halfway through the graphic novel, I realised that I just didn’t care about this story. I think the sudden realisation may stem from a recent episode of the ANNcast podcast, where one of the co-hosts (Justin Zevakis, IIRC) commented that, as a grown man, he had no reason to care about what a group of high school girls are doing.

Actually, maybe my distaste isn’t with moe per se, but with high school comedies. The first graphic novel I really got into was Azumanga Daioh, by Azuma Kiyohiko. At the time, I was in high school, so watching a bunch of high schoolers was relevant to my interests, even (or perhaps especially) if they were girls. Since then, though, I’ve seen several other shows with the same setting, some of which I’m sure I’ll still like, but at this point I graduated high school five years ago. The setting seems really trivial, and honestly some stories suffer from the lack of gravity inherent in most teenage relationships. ToraDora had this problem – though the urgency the characters felt to clarify everyone’s feelings may have seemed important from their point of view, I found that sense of urgency unnecessary.…

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Endless Eight Revisited

I marathon’d Haruhi season two’s ‘Endless Eight’ arc yesterday with my sister. The first time I watched E8, it was through fansubs uploaded to Youtube, and the highlight was really just watching the comments get increasingly irate with every episode. Similarly, the highlight of watching the official DVD release was the commentary reel my sister and I provided.

Like many fans, I’m still not sure what to make of the whole endeavour. The studio, Kyoto Animation, put too much effort in the animation for this to be a mere instance of laziness, or even a deliberate lowering of expectations for the upcoming Haruhi film as a bold few have suggested. Some fans, my sister included, did enjoy noting all the differences between each episode, and E8 could be viewed as an experiment in how many different ways one could animate the same events. Using a flagship franchise like this for experimentation, though, seems like a tremendously ballsy move.

As for me, I’m quite comfortable a-sitting on a fence on this one, beyond noting that, while I appreciate KyoAni’s boldness, if that’s what it is, and greatly enjoyed the drama of a thoroughly alienated fanbase, ultimately I did not enjoy the actual show, and would place the experiment, if that’s even what it was, in the ‘noble failure’ category.…

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FLCL on Blu-Ray

I finally got hold of the long-awaited blu-ray edition of FLCL, which is second only to serial experiments lain among my favourite (and most-watched) anime. Just owning the whole series gives me sufficient cause to celebrate, since I only own vols. 1 and 3 of the previous release (plus the full series as a bootleg).

I’ve read that the Japanese edition had serious problems with video quality, so North American publisher Funimation did their own remastering. The end result looks very good. There were moments when lines became noticeably jagged or the screen looked a bit fuzzy, so one could easily tell that this show came out before HDTVs were common, but I think they do look better than the original DVD release. If you already have the old DVDs and aren’t a big fan, though, it’s probably not worth the purchase.

On a final note, this is the first post I’ve written via my iPhone, so if anything looks weird that’s probably why.…

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Ghost Hound

I finished the anime Ghost Hound last night, which an acquaintance of mine recommended to me a while back. Apparently, some of the same staff who worked on serial experiments lain, which I loved, also worked on Ghost Hound, including writer Konaka Chiaki. The resemblance was obvious, too, since both tackle similar themes and share some stylistic touches (like extreme close-ups of people’s eyes or mouth).

Overall, it’s an excellent series. Good animation, likable characters, skillful plotting, all the things one checks for. The ending should ideally have been two episodes instead of one, since it felt rushed and everything turned out unbelievably hunky-dory. Overall, though, I felt satisfied.

Even aside from the lain connection, though, it’s the type of show I tend to enjoy. Most premises built on a polytheistic or animistic mythology appeal to me. Perhaps a world populated by the supernatural offers an intriguing contrast to the materialist worldview common in the United States.…

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Last Exile

I watched Last Exile the other day, after a couple years of seeing several people whose opinion I respect speak well of it. Very seldom am I led astray by those I trust, especially when the work in question gets near-universal praise as Last Exile does. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing someone who outright dislikes it.

Yet, I dropped it after just two episodes.

There were a few problems, but two factors especially turned me off right away. First, ugly computer-generated aircraft. CG animation almost always looks bad anyway, but looks especially jarring when used with traditional 2D animation. To the show’s credit, though, the rest of the animation looked good.

Second, the two protagonists irritated the hell out of me. Both fall into the archetype I call the ‘noble retard,’ a character who always does the right thing even if it’s plainly impossible, suicidal, and possibly not even worthwhile. Emiya in Fate / Stay Night and the male lead (whatever his name was) in Elfen Lied both fit the archetype, and dragged down both shows. Two of them together, though, is just too much for me.

Maybe I’ll give this show another chance down the road – two episodes on a seven-DVD series isn’t all that much, after all – especially given the praise it gets. For now, though, I’ll have to put it down as one of the bigger disappointments I’ve had recently.…

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Evangelion 2.0 – My Impression

A theatre about an hour’s drive away from me was showing the first two Evangelion Rebuild films, so after some deliberation I decided to go.

I had modest expectations, going as much to support the industry and encourage studios to release more animated films in theatres as I did to see these particular works. The original series has always struck me as decent, but highly overrated, Death and Rebirth is one of the worst films I’ve seen, and End of Evangelion, though gorgeous to look at, still seems like a disjointed mess. The rebuild, though, blew me away.

The first film I’ve seen already on DVD. It’s mostly just a touched-up version of the first few episodes of the original TV show, albeit with a few new scenes and a more coherent plot. The action scenes did benefit greatly from the big theatre screen.

The second, though, is one of the most spectacular films I’ve ever seen in a theatre. I’d heard that the film is beautiful, and the praise is richly deserved. The animation is fluid, the backgrounds detailed, and the music is excellent. For the first time, I felt I had a real sense of the scale of everything – the Evas, the Angels, Tokyo-3. The visuals in this film by themselves justified the long drive and price of admission.

The characters also come across as more likable and well-developed than in the original series. Shinji actually has a bit of a spine in this version, where in the TV and End of Eva versions I detested him as much as I detest any fictional character for being such a wuss. Rei, rather too flat in the original, now shows some modest attempts at sociability, and comes across as much more sympathetic as a result. Even Gendo is less of a prick now, going so far as to give Shinji some praise – only once, briefly, but like Rei he seems far more human and sympathetic now.

The plot still seems muddy, but we’re only halfway through the series, so I’ll wait to criticise that. The new Eva pilot irritated me, just because she doesn’t seem to have any purpose. Again, though, there are still two films to go so I’ll hold back my criticism there, too.

Talking to a few fans between the films was fun, too. My main complaint is that the theatre literally just played the films via a PlayStation 3 (we saw the PS3 menu prior to each film beginning). Blu-Rei Blu-ray resolution with a good projector did, of course, give a much greater experience than what I could get with my TV at home, but it just felt a little bush league to me.

While I’ve always appreciated what Evangelion has done well, and its historical impact, with Eva 2.0 I find myself becoming, for the first time, an Evangelion fan.…

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Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death and Rebirth

I just finished watching Evangelion: Death and Rebirth, and have never felt so pissed off at a film. Yeah, I’d been warned by people I trust to just avoid this one, but like a cat curiosity got the better of me. After all, the main series was okay, and End of Evangelion may have hacked me off by trying too hard to integrate every philosophy it could think of, but at least it had high production values.

Part 1, “Death,” just recaps the TV series for an hour or so. Those who’ve already seen the series don’t need that much recapping, but it also doesn’t do anything to introduce any characters or plot points to ease newcomers into the film. Even worse, our beloved studio Gainax made this recap by simply re-editing scenes from the show while adding almost no new animation.

Then, we get a credit sequence in the middle of the film, as though this were two TV episodes spliced together, and an intermission. The film’s only 115 minutes long, though, so I’m not sure why any intermission is needed, especially in addition to the immediately preceding credit sequence. Maybe Japanese studios are just especially courteous to moviegoers who buy large drinks at the concession stand?

Anyway, we then proceed to Part 2, “Rebirth.” Here’s the highlight of the film, where we the plot finally gets moving again. End of Evangelion recycled almost all of this footage, but since that came a couple years later I’ll give Death and Rebirth a pass on that. What I won’t give it a pass on, though, is that whereas many films begin in media res, this one decides to end in media res. Literally, the end credits (the real end credits this time) start rolling right before what’s obviously going to be a fight scene, with next to nothing resolved. A couple years later Gainax recycles “Rebirth” and actually finally gives Neon Genesis Evangelion something resembling a proper ending. That one has problems of its own, but at least it begins and ends somewhere, and if you just cut out Death and Rebirth makes the series feel mostly whole.

What boggles my mind, though, is how many attempts Gainax has made at creating a decent ending for their flagship franchise. Apparently, they couldn’t do it right when the show originally aired because they ran out of time or money. Still a lame excuse, perhaps, but whatever. So they make a second attempt with Death and Rebirth, but that fails miserably, so they make a third attempt and finally get it somewhat right with End of Eva. Even that apparently wasn’t enough, though, since now Gainax has redone the whole series as a film tetralogy, their second attempt at the story as a whole and their fourth attempt at an ending. At this point, I feel I must conclude that no one at Gainax ever did know how Eva ought to end; we’ve yet to see whether or not they still don’t.…

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On the Flipside

You know something that should really be banned? Dual-sided DVDs.

Seriously, I can never tell which side is which. There’s usualy a label on one side saying something like “Widescreen” or “Side A.” What really makes these things so bush league is that there’s usually no way of telling whether the widescreen version is the side with the label, or the reverse, since that’s the side that’ll be read by the DVD player. Even worse, I encountered one disc today that had the label “Fullscreen” followed, on the same label, with “Widescreen (flipside).”

“Hey, thanks,” I thought when I saw that. So, I put the “flipside” face-down, and found that the label lied to me.

Actually, this problem could be mostly solved if we could get a ban of fullscreen edition movies. Why would anyone prefer that to widescreen? Do there exist people who like to have the edges of the screen lopped off to fit standard television screen ratio? Get it together, people.…

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